As I stated, I am, at my core, a storyteller. I am not an essayist, or a technical writer, or an English professor, nor do I have any desire to be one. On my Amazon Author Page, and other places, I state this quite clearly.
I have one goal when I write. That goal is to tell a good story. Nothing more, and most certainly, nothing less. I use the written word to tell stories, because in expressing my art, it is this form with which I am most comfortable. As I am evolving, I strive to become better at my craft. When I write, whether it is in powerful, solid, short sentences, or overly descriptive and excessively grandiose prose — all keystrokes, every choice of font, use of commas, perspectives, character names, and on and on, are chosen with the most deliberate of intent.
When crafting a story in written form, there are several tools available. Tools that allow us to do more than simply tell a tale. There are elements at our disposal to aid us in putting our readers directly into the story. Yet, because of outdated publishing standards, and fear of reviewers citing certain elements of style, we as artists, are bullied into submissive conformity.
I say enough!
Let’s look at some of the tools we may utilize to better express our art and own our Author’s Voice.
How about we begin with font? Thanks to Steve Jobs sitting in on a calligraphy class, our word-processing applications come loaded with a smorgasbord of fonts. These are available at the touch of a finger and enable us additional means to express ourselves. I must ask — Why the fuck are we still using bland, boring and banal Courier and Times New Roman? I get that when typesetting was a chore, and typewriters had hammers with fixed fonts, there was little to no choice. But in case the publishing industry hasn’t looked at a calendar, this is 2019, not 1919. We have many wondrous and elegant choices to put word to paper. Why are we so reluctant to use them?
In War Springs Eternal, and Is Suicide Painless, I decided to stop being a brain-dead, mindless automaton and utilize a different font. Not simply to be different, but to aid in telling the stories. I chose Ink Free, because I wanted the stories to appear as they were being handwritten, told directly by the person.
Which leads to my next tool in crafting a story, first person narrative. When I choose to use first person narrative, I am not using it to tell the story from a character’s perspective, I am using it, so the reader gets to read it from their own perspective. In these cases, I don’t want the reader to be told a story, or simply be part of the story — I strive to make the story, the reader’s story.
Which again leads to my next tool, not giving the main character a name. In most of my stories told from first person perspective, I don’t give the main character a name. This is a point I am often asked about. When I tell them the answer, they usually respond, “Yes, now that you say it, that’s how it felt.”
What is my reason? To make the reader — the character.
I omit naming the central character, so the readers feel as if, perhaps perceptible at a level just below consciousness, they are the ones telling the story.
Next, are some of the more — what are deemed by those who clench their asses so tightly, that the insertion of a charcoal briquette up their lower colon, would result in the expulsion of a nice sized diamond — offensive transgressions. These pesky persnickety worshipers of The Elements of Style have heart-attack causing anxiety when we use the following to tell a story.
The overuse of commas. Why, at times, is it a good idea, to overuse, the comma? Not because we are mimicking Bill Shatner’s James T. Kirk, but because in the age of multitasking induced shortened attention spans, we want the reader to slow down and take in a certain part of the story. It is not only simple, it is effective.
The overuse of commas opposite, the run-on sentence. How dare I? When run-on sentences are noted, the grammarian gatekeepers cry for summary execution. Often by the barbaric and cruel guillotine no less.
Again, how dare I?
I dare because when I defy this standard I want the reader to quicken his or her pace. The character for whatever reason is rushing so I want the reader to rush. Re-read this paragraph without inserting your own pauses. Get it?
Then we have the run-on’s opposite, the dreaded sentence fragment. Aren’t sentence fragments just lazy and sloppy writing? You may ask. Well, to the red pencil yielding hordes, it most definitely is. But in the hands of a skilled raconteur, it is a powerful tool.
How and why? If I am using sentence fragments, it is because at that point in the story, the character is fragmented. Through using the narrative, I want to convey that to the reader. In other words, I don’t want to tell. I don’t even strive to show. I desire the reader to experience exactly what is being felt.
And now, the mortal sin of all mortal sins. One of which, last rites will not absolve, and for which no penance in purgatory will be served. This mortal sin will have us passing from this life directly to flames and fire of hell. This is the big one. Instead of listing items with only commas, I have a tendency to use, and overuse “and!” I will now insert a picture collage, so you may pause and absorb this most heinous infraction of proper English writing.
Why commit such an atrocious act of blasphemy? The answer is so simple. It is because I want the reader to place emphasis upon each and every word, and idea, and point, and emotion I am conveying.
“Joe, how dare you even mention these efforts to be an individualistic. We are writers, not artists, thus we are bound to the laws of composition and elements of style. Colleges and textbook publishers have made millions of dollars to snap us into a rigid and unforgiving way to write.”
Let’s face it, the grammarians and English PhD’s, who spend much of their time drowning in the pools of academia, will never quite get why an artist would break their holy and coveted rules. Instead of showing any intellectual curiosity, they will instead voraciously vilify our labors to make writing our art. In their efforts to bully us into submission, they will take to the pages of social media or the simultaneously much-coveted and much feared Amazon review — attempting to force us to bend to their will.
I say, “FUCK THEM!” Let them waste away in their ivory covered towers — never descending to mingle with us, the artists of the written word.
Because storytelling is our art, what they will never understand, what they can never understand — is we seek to do much more than write, we seek to create.